Torn over Tata

 I’m grappling with some of my feelings about the recent unveiling of the Tata car. “The People’s Car” is the world’s cheapest and smallest car aimed initially at the Indian market. It is hailed as a pilar of equalityand democracy, paving the road for millions of Indian families to enjoy what was once only an upper class pursuit-“excelling in equity” as Sara rightly says in her blog. The egalitarian inside me is all for it.

But the environmentalist inside me thinks that it’s a huge disaster. These accessible cars are likely to give rise to 15 million new car owners in India over the coming years. Already there are 1 million applicants for the 60,000 Tatas that are available this year. Although the car gets 50 miles per gallon, this increase in personal car use will undoubtedly give rise to extraordinary environmental effects. Not only will the smog and congestion increase, but demand for sprawling suburbia will too. In my opinion, the Tata is the second worst disaster since the Model T.

There’s an obvious conflict here. How can I believe in equality and also believe that someone enjoying the same freedoms that I’ve experienced is fundamentally bad? How can I legitimately argue against giving someone the option to drive rather than take a crowded and hot bus when I spent six years of my life driving an SUV?

The most legitimate reason that I can come up with, and its one I feel pretty good about for now, is that I have the right and the duty to teach people what I’ve learned and to encourage others to learn from my mistakes. We’ve learned that the Model T, while wildly democratizing, also created incentives to abandon and in some cases destroy public transportation systems, it led to the building of sprawling but ultimately inadequate road systems, and the development of problematic suburbs. All of these I experienced, benefited from, then realized the shortcomings of. None of these do I want to see happen again. And I think I can legitimately explain to any Indian thinking about buying a Tata that they shouldn’t let it happen either.